What happened at Grande Riviere beach where hundreds of turtles were killed in an effort to stop land slippage must never happen again. This was stated by Minister of Tourism Stephen Cadiz while speaking to reporters at the beach as several concerned government officials and residents gathered to get more information about the incident.
Over the weekend workers from the Ministry of Water and the Environment Drainage Division began work to divert a river in an effort to save several businesses which were threatened by erosion. In the process hundreds of leatherback turtle hatchlings and eggs were destroyed. The incident has not only attracted the attention of conservationists and environmentalist groups but several international media organisations.
Cadiz, along with a crew of government officials that included Minister of Water and the Environment Ganga Singh, yesterday visited the site to survey the work that was done and to see what still needs to be accomplished. Cadiz said that his ministry was very proud of the fact that the leatherback turtles had chosen Trinidad to lay their eggs.
"Obviously we are not very proud about what has happened here and we will be speaking to the right people, with the EMA, with the people in charge of beaches, coastal regions and get some expert advice as to how this thing will never ever happen again," he said.
He described the beach as a crucial site for tourism in the country and stressed that he hoped it would never happen again and called the situation a "disaster." Cadiz said there needed to be more research so that no other turtle nesting site would have to be destroyed in this manner.
He also said he believed that there was very little consultation on the project at Grande Riviere and that some mistakes may have been made. "If a huge error has been made in trying to fix a natural occurrence and we did it the wrong way for whatever reason, obviously we didn't know what to expect and therefore I do not think we can continue with that," he said.
Cadiz said it was a very "ticklish situation" as several things had to be taken into consideration when the decision was made. He said it was not a "nice learning curve." Singh however defended his ministry's decision even though he admitted that he believed the actions taken "could have been handled a bit more sensitively."
"Well work has to continue because you are within the hurricane season and you would already recognise that this is not a really significant zone for laying of the turtle eggs and it is the area that they sought to protect," he said. He said the fact the leatherback turtles chose this country to nest is a gift to the world and that in the past all efforts have been taken to protect the endangered species.
"It is not in the DNA of Trinidad and Tobago to endanger the leatherback turtle. It is in the DNA of the country to protect the leatherback turtle. That is our local obligation and that is our international obligation," he said. He said his "newly minted" ministry would be making moves to help residents protect their sensitive ecosystem.
"Approximately 80 per cent of all leatherbacks in the world nest in Trinidad and Tobago so that therefore it is indeed a haven for the leatherback turtle. Therefore we need to provide a safe haven for the leatherback turtle," he said. Singh also said the numbers of turtles killed were exaggerated and he does not feel that his ministry was in breach of any international treaties.
He said he was holding everybody responsible as the matter should have been handled more sensitively. The residents who had gathered were in support of the ministry's action and said that it was the only appropriate way that it could have been handled.
"Three little hatchlings die, you see what going on here. The villagers fully in support of what going on. Turtles don't lay here-any turtles that hatch here does die," Kyle Charles said. He was amazed that the turtles had received so much media attention when the people of the village have been highlighting the issues they face for some time.
Another resident, Wilton James, who has been living at the beach for 45 years said he was very happy about the action taken and hoped that another river lower down the beach would be diverted in the same manner, as it was eroding the land that he and about five others were living on. "They only basing on turtles and turtles but not on human being," he said.
He said the river had begun to cause trees to fall and he was really worried that he may lose his home. He urged Singh to follow him down the beach to see the nature of the destruction he faced. The team of officials then walked down the beach to survey all the erosion that the river had caused so far and what remedial work was needed still to prevent the entire village from being lost.